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Ethiopia’s War Against its LGBTQ Citizens

“Africa will become a graveyard for homosexuality!”

This is the rallying cry of Seyoum Antonius, president of United for Life, an NGO self-described as Christian, pro-life and backing the sanctity of marriage. He was the organizer of a national conference titled “Homosexuality and its associated social disastrous consequences” held in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa in June.

At the conference, Antonius presented his findings from a “study” that “proved” homosexuality leads to STDs, HIV and “severe psychological disorders.” His “findings” were received among wide condemnation of homosexuality from Ethiopian officials, religious leaders and civil representatives as a “western epidemic.”

Seyoum Antonius is only one of a number of reasons that Newsweek, in its recent investigative report, asserts that where life is getting better for many countries’ LGBTQ communities, “in Ethiopia, it’s getting worse.”

Prior to Antonius’s horrifying and detrimental conference, life was already bleak for Ethiopia’s LGBTQ community. Homosexuality is illegal in Ethiopia. Sentences for “homosexual activity” range on average from ten days to three years but can be as high as ten years in prison under certain circumstances.

Ethiopian daily newspaper Yenga had described homosexuality as a “rapidly growing ‘infestation’” whose “carriers” were “estimated to have reached 16,000.” Yenga also asserted that gays have an average of 75 partners a year and that their inherent promiscuity drives them to have between “seven and nine partners a day.”

Further, a 2007 Pew Global Attitudes Project reveals that 97% of Ethiopians believe that homosexuality should be outlawed.

But this isn’t enough for Antonius. A representative from the Ethiopian Inter-Religious Council Against Homosexuality claimed that the council was making “promising” progress in its efforts to sway the government toward implementing the death penalty for “homosexual acts.” Antonius has been clear that he won’t give up his efforts until this happens, hence his chilling rallying cry.

Two laws in Ethiopia in essence completely bar any health centers, charities, or publications in service of Ethiopia’s LGBTQ community. One, Ethiopia’s strict anti-terrorism law, allows the government to prosecute any person who “writes, edits, prints, publishes, publicizes, [or] disseminates” statements the government considers terrorism. This translates to the police being able to search and arrest anyone they want — without a warrant.

Another pivotal law is the one that bars all charities and NGOs that receive more than 10% of their funding from abroad from engaging in activities that further human rights or promote equality.

The result of these laws, both adopted in 2009, is that the few reputable organizations doing work on human rights within Ethiopia have been either closed or coerced to wipe any mention of human rights from their mission statements.

Leslie Lefkow, Human Rights Watch’s deputy editor for the Africa division describes Ethiopia’s restrictive approach as a “two-pronged strategy that results in a climate of fear and self-censorship. The government has effectively closed off the country in terms of independent investigation. They’ve eviscerated the civil society.”

That strategy is so effective that not even major international organizations like the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria have had any success funding programs that educate men who have sex with men about HIV prevention or treat those that are inflicted with the disease.

Further, according to Amnesty International’s Claire Beston: “The U.S., U.K. and other governments give huge amounts of aid to Ethiopia while remaining tight-lipped about the extensive violations of human rights happening throughout the country.” Human Rights Watch, which used to research LGBTQ issues in Ethiopia, has found it “increasingly challenging” to do that work, given that it calls for undercover work.

Life is getting worse for the LGBTQ community, indeed.

Kelley Calkins

Sources: Newsweek, Pink News, UNHCR, Pew Global
Photo: Rainbow Ethiopia